Diane Theunissen

12 Jul
Music

Polo & Pan: “We Focus on the Musicality and Then We Add the Concepts”

Four years after the release of their brilliant debut album ‘Caravelle’, Polo & Pan return with their second record, the well-anticipated ‘Cyclorama’. It was definitely worth the wait: with this project, the Parisian duo combines eclectic, lunar, and nostalgic sounds to create a new identity for themselves. We caught up with Paul Armand-Delille to discuss the genesis of the project, the dynamics within the band, and the power of teamwork within creative industries.

How do you feel about the release?

I feel great; it’s going really well. We received fantastic feedback on the first couple of songs that we dropped; we can see that the fans are happy. Some new territories even got activated: it’s going well in the US, and for the first time, Germany stands as the country that’s following us the most. It’s taking off well in the UK, Turkey, and Israel too, but these countries have been supporting us for a long time.

What is the meaning of Cyclorama? Why did you go for this title?

We were looking for something surrounding cycles. The concept of the album is about the cycle of life: there is a birth song, there is a requiem; there is a kind of concept behind each track that speaks about the cycles of life. So we were looking for a word around the lexical field of cycles, and we ended up finding this word, which sounded super good too, we were also looking for something beautiful in its writing.

There’s a story of cycle and panorama in this record, something quite visual and temporal. It happens to be a word mostly used in theater and cinema, and as our scenography is based on a form of cyclorama, we said to ourselves, “It definitely fits.” We had a massive crush on that word.

The album cover serves as a visual representation of the passing of time, isn’t that right?

Exactly, everything is based on time. As I mentioned before, there is an idea of birth, a requiem, so there is death, there are pieces that bring reflections on transcendence too. The track we did with Vladimir Cosma, which is a bit of a childhood song, but it’s also a moment of handing over because we were able to work with Vladimir who is 80 years old. We were able to go on stage with him; we were able to work on the score, so there’s this whole thing of exchange and life cycle.

Your sonic identity has evolved a lot over the years. How would you define the Cyclorama era?

We worked differently on this album. At the time of Rivolta, we met up with a lot of people and spent all our time in the studio tinkering. It all started from a sample! I think that fundamentally our sound has not completely changed, but it’s definitely evolved; the production is perhaps a little more polished and less solar than our previous album. The first one was definitely naive and solar, while this one is a little bit more balanced.

But it’s not for me to put a label on it, for the moment it’s the public that will give its impressions. What we like is to ask questions as artists, and not necessarily give answers. I’m not going to categorize my project by telling you, “My record is like this; it sounds like this.” I think it’s up to everybody to have their own vision and among other things, it’s the journalists who will find ingenious ideas to find the name of our new sound.

We were just about to use the word lunar to describe this project. It’s quite funny that you mention that it’s not as sunny as before.

Exactly! There is more moon; it’s a balance. There are more nocturnal tracks like “Artemis” or “Tunnel”. They’re tracks where the night takes over, where the moonlight takes over.

There are also tracks like “Feel Good” or “Magic”, which are super dance-like, joyful, and solar. Did you plan to have such a creative eclecticism?

No, we didn’t do it on purpose. We started making all the demos during our last tour, on our own. Compared to the previous album where we were spending all our time together—from the beginning and the genesis of the songs—the dynamics surrounding this project were more independent; Alex and I worked on our own laptops during the tour or during the breaks. We started with about thirty demos and we chose the ones we liked the most, the ones we could actually finish. We’re always really ambitious in what we want to do, and it takes a lot of time to record things properly. So we’re still sitting on a lot of other demos.

So the songs evolved?

Then we found the theme—this idea of cycles—and we started to see some of our songs emerge. But we never said to ourselves, “Well, we’re going to release the birth song, the childhood song, the teenage song.” We focus on musicality and then we add the concepts. You can’t be a prisoner of concepts.

What is the message you wanted to convey with this album?

Like I said earlier, we like to ask questions and not answer them. (laughs) There’s a cycle, a Peter Pan vibe over here: this is the end, this is childhood. Nature has always been an important theme for us too, so I’d say there’s something about the eternal cycle as well. It’s something we like to suggest without imposing it: everyone will see what they want. It’s funny, we met up with journalists saying, “Jiminy is like a circus track,” whereas it wasn’t our intention at all; it’s rather organic and tropical.

It’s funny to see what people hear in what we suggest. And again, we like to propose a concept, a narrative, and a story, but we never impose it too strongly. The chronology of the songs does not necessarily follow the chronology of life: the Requiem arrives in the middle of the record. We put musicality and the listening experience forward so that the record flows.

Do you listen to the feedback of your fans?

The audience tells us what they prefer, how they perceive the album. Maybe it’s a record about something else, and we didn’t realize it. You have to let the audience take its place, if you slam the concept too hard you force them to perceive the record in a particular way. In all the great works and the great movies, there’s a bit of vagueness; the end doesn’t answer everything, and that’s what’s cool too.

What was the dynamic of the band during the conception of the album?

Most of the songs originated from demos we came up with before. Also, we spent the first lockdown apart; when “Feel Good” was released, we were in a Home Sweet Home mode, we worked remotely. We met up again to mix the tracks and work on the production of the project. I believe lockdown was fairly fruitful for some artists: when you see the number of albums that came out over the past few months, you can clearly see this. It was a time when we had nothing else to do other than being in the studio.

The album was supposed to be released last summer, so we took a good extra year to finish some tracks. We took the opportunity to push a lot further, which was great. I’m more of an introvert by nature; I appreciated this a lot. Alex didn’t. For him it was harder not to see the public, not to have this energy. I rather was in a good state, although I’m happy that things are starting to fall back into place! How nice is it to finally be able to have a drink on a terrace and enjoy life?

Are you both multidisciplinary artists?

Yeah. I wasn’t singing on the first album, but I happen to be singing on three songs here. Singing isn’t my strongest point, but I thought, “Cool, I’ll have songs to sing on stage.” I’ve always enjoyed writing songs too. It wasn’t what I had in mind for our first album; I thought we would be more of a Daft Punk band, a bit more hidden, a bit more electro, too. (laughs) But Alex wanted to sing, so I didn’t stop him; we never got in the way. Then we realized that we could be this hybrid band between pop and electronic music, and we’ve managed to make it work

You guys are both from Paris, isn’t that right?

Yeah, Alex is from Paris and I’m French-American. I lived on a farm in Normandy when I was a kid and moved to Paris when I was 18.

Was the album recorded in Paris?

We started it on the road. A lot of the demos were created during the US tour, I know Alex was quite productive at that time. I wrote “Feel Good” in Normandy, and I recorded it there too. I put a lot of effort into this track: guitars, piano, vocals, I recorded everything during the lockdown.

Our studio is our little jewel, and it’s where we try to spend most of our time. That’s where we recorded the vocals for “Ani Kuni”, for example, on an old ReVox. That’s where we do a lot of our sound experimentation, but we can work just about anywhere actually.

There seems to be an exotic feel to your project too.

Very much so. We’ve been using exotic instruments since the beginning of our project. I love exotica, it’s a huge reference for me in terms of music. We are a little less exotic on the second album, even if you can still hear some aspects of the genre.

What were your biggest inspirations for the conception of this project?

We often start from the inner world: from childhood, from memories, from samples. So it’s not like there was an event in our lives that influenced the record. The album doesn’t reflect current events; it’s a rather poetic project that’s based on an inner universe. One of our references here is Bach, while our previous album was heavily influenced by Debussy. We’ve always been collectors, a bit of hunters. In our production, we are rather in the present, but in our references, we are in the past. We like to unearth little jewels, little gems. We enjoy old Disney movies too, which we have exploited a lot.

I don’t think the record was influenced by particular events, even our tour didn’t influence it much. We didn’t go for tracks that are easier to do live; they’re almost more difficult to play. (laughs) Again, every song is a little destination of its own. I’d have to go back and scan the whole project to answer this question properly, but I don’t think the songs are particularly related to events of the last two years.

There are several collaborations on this project, such as a featuring with Channel Tres on “Tunnel”. How did this come to life?

It’s all thanks to a duo of Americans who worked for Apple. They launched Apple Music, and now they work for Universal and try to connect artists. They came to see us and suggested a couple of bands with whom we could collaborate. It was really helpful. Channel Tres was on the list, and I think that’s the one we really fell in love with. There was a lot of pop stuff, and this was something more atypical, a bit crazy—we especially liked his voice.

He was really into the project too. We never met, we barely spoke. We just sent music back and forth. It was really like a 3.0 collaboration: we were telecommuting, confined at the most. (laughs) Then again, we had already done that on our first album with the track “Mexicali”. At the time it was with Meridian Brothers in Colombia, it was just by email, they recorded some stuff for us, and we never saw each other. That’s a pity! I would love to meet Channel Tres one day, and Meridian Brothers too. (laughs)

What is your favorite song on this album?

It’s not like we get to choose, but I would go for “Magic”. Then again, there are a lot of songs that I love. “Magic” is that one track I can’t wait to play on massive stages and see what happens, but I can’t wait to sing “Feel Good” either. “Les jolies choses” or “Artemis” are pretty great too. But to be honest, I recently stopped listening to the album. I’ll give myself a few weeks before diving back into it because we worked so hard, we don’t know what we like and what we don’t like anymore. (laughs)

Polo & Pan’s new album ‘Cyclorama‘ is out now.

Pictures by Fiona Torre and Joe Cruz

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